16 March 2011 ~ Comments

Think Accessibility

Netflix is a movie lover’s dream, with thousands upon thousands of films and television shows from every genre. Streaming service made it even more convenient. It meant no more waiting for DVDs to arrive, but it also meant almost non-existent closed captioning.

Although Netflix was not required by law to provide closed captioning on their service, there was an immediate public outcry for accessibility for consumers.

Officials said in 2009 they were working on the technology to encode, and to allow viewers to turn captions on and off.

As of Feb. 24, 2011, 30 percent of the enormous Netflix library is captioned. That represents about 3,500 items in television programs alone, a huge leap from just 100 foreign movie titles that were available with subtitles in April 2010.

Netflix officials say 80 percent of the library will be captioned by the end of 2011. Captioning is available as part of the regular subscription price, which starts at about $8 per month.

Netflix is working hard towards a resolution to accommodate their hard-of-hearing customers, and to communicate progress through periodic blog posts and tweets (@netflixhelps), but the struggle is indicative of the culture as a whole.

It’s immeasurably easier to be a deaf person today that it was, say, 100 years ago. But there are still daily reminders that the world is tailored to the hearing. The smart business owner will take this into consideration when marketing his product.

Large corporations often have an image of global awareness, of inclusiveness, of solidarity with their public — think Coke, Target, Apple. But something like the initial lack of captioning for Netflix makes the consumer wonder, how aware are these companies of the hard-of-hearing population? If we apply for a job, will training materials be captioned? What other difficulties might we face as employees?

Those who aren’t practicing internal accessibility would be wise to begin, and even wiser to consider their image with consumers. It’s beyond frustrating to watch uncaptioned commercials. Like everyone else, deaf people want to know what this political candidate is promising and why that laundry detergent is the very best. If one product captions and another doesn’t, the viewer is going to have an automatic bias. That hurts the non-captioning company and potentially hurts the consumer as well.

Netflix officials kept their customers in the loop by detailing their struggle with captions. Several avenues they tried took enormous amounts of time and data storage, but they ended up winning the fight and are on their way to accessibility.

The deaf public is sensitive to the fact that not every company has the resources to undertake such a huge endeavor. But don’t write us off entirely. We’re out here and we have money to spend. Don’t discount the value of our dollars when plotting your marketing plan.

Update: In January 2011, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) began collaborating with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) and Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson, P.C., a premiere civil rights law firm, to explore the legal implications of the failure of Netflix to provide closed captioning on “Watch Instantly” streamed movies.  Read more here…

  • ncmacasl

    actually the number is between 7-13% depending on how you crunch the numbers. http://bit.ly/nf-cc-xls - true data from Netflix's own API

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